“The Biggest Thing Missing Is The Investment In Independent Music” says Luke Kenny

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Luke Kenny started his career in 1989 as a dancer. He worked with Arshad Warsi’s dance crew and worked as a choreographer till 1992. He then joined his first music band called Greek. Furthermore, he worked as a DJ and went to become the first male VJ for Channel V. He moved on from a VJ to the head of music programming and artists relations for the same music channel. There is little that is left for Luke to explore. We got a chance to speak to him about his experience in the industry, and his thoughts on the current state of affairs in the industry.

Talking about his journey so far, Luke said, “Music has always been there. I just wanted to be a part of the entertainment industry, and I felt I grow with it as it also grew, which is what happened. I have been a contributor and a part of the industry in so many ways since I had so many interests, whether it was some music dance theatre stage-acting so on and so forth. I went to one opportunity as it was presented to me. Wherever I felt I could be a part of whatever was happening – it started with music, in college, I was a part of a band. Then I took part in extracurricular activities, whether it was education, debates, theatre, dance. And then the dance thing took off for me, but the music never stopped. While I was doing my dancing thing, I was still doing gigs with my band. I was again doing theatre whenever it was presented to me, and I have always tried to be creatively contributive in whichever way possible. That is what happened, and is still happening today.”

Talking about his different roles in the music industry and how the industry has changed/progressed over the years, Luke said, “One thing is clear that whenever we have talked about the Indian Music Industry or the Indian Film Music Industry, we have always adapted the sound of the west into whatever we have done. Whether it is a part of the film or not part of the film – if you don’t follow the classical tradition and follow up on the populist tradition, they are always imbibing ideas and attitudes of international music, whether its rock, pop, hip-hop, dubstep, trap etc. Indian popular music has always tried to adapt those styles and genres, throughout the history of film and non-film music. This is a constant trend that I have seen keep happening. For past 4-5 years, Indian music went EDM, now it’s Hip-Hop – so we have always tried to adapt from the west, because at the end of the day – we are trying to make music for the youth. Youth are more accepting of new things. So that’s how it has always worked and evolved.

Talking about what efforts can be made to promote Independent Music, Luke said, “Independent Music in India doesn’t get the same level of Sun that Hindi Film Music does. The biggest thing missing is the investment in Independent music. The platforms are there, the talent is there, the attitude is there, but there has been no investment. There was a bit of investment during the Indi-Pop era like Magna Sound was like – ‘Ok! We will find these artists, we will package them, create a sound around them, create an image around them and put them out there’ – and that created a huge splash! Bollywood then absorbed them into their big shapeless mass that they are, and they all got lost into that. Now we are going to a full circle once again with the Punjabi Pop Industry that has had a huge resurgence with new and exciting artists that we know of, and yet Hindi film music has started absorbing them in. Any song that has been a hit song in the past 5 years has made a transition into Bollywood now. They have kinda re-versioned it put it out there again. The artist needs to stay strong with their identity and do not sway and get lost. Unfortunately a large part of the independent database, artists barely live hand-to-mouth. Whatever money they make, goes into making their music and packaging it. There is no external investment that is coming in – ‘Hey guys! I love what you guys do! Let me help you take it up to the next level!’ – that has not happened with any artist so far, at least in the past 5-7years.

Speaking about whether the investment should be coming in from the music labels or some other source, Luke said, “The music labels should not be coming in this scenario. They have done their best until the digital/streaming age came in. Earlier all labels were supporting the independent music scene. Everybody invested their money into Indi-Pop stars, and the minute they got picked into Hindi Film Music, it all just disintegrated. The Music labels at the time did not owe it to anyone for their investment into the independent scene back then – they took the responsibility to create a parallel independent industry that could become self-sustainable one day. Now there needs to be an external body that invests and brings independent music up to par to the Hindi film music – especially now when the Hindi film music industry is not the giant it once was. Nobody is buying Hindi music anymore. Everyone is streaming everything now, and there is an absolute democracy there. The artist needs that little investment to make their music a little bit more palatable.

There are a lot of brands that consistently invest in music from time-to-time, but it’s usually a 2-year or a 3-year plan to promote a specific product. Probably there is some merit in that. That is one way to do it. Then, of course, you got to go through the Venture Capitalist route also. Look at the Simon Cowell direction, he threw few guys together and formed the One Direction. That kind of a person with that kind of money needs to come in. Like Richard Branson did with Virgin Music. Something like that is needed and should not be governed by any vested interest. Most Musicians are not businessmen, they are creators. We should let them create.

Speaking about whether the Government should get involved, he refused immediately saying, “No! They need to sort out this country. Leave the sorting out to musicians and to people who really know how to sort out music. The Government does not know how to sort out the music! Let them figure out how to sort out the country. And this can be any Government. Not pointing fingers at anyone!

Talking about how OTT platforms are helping musicians and the independent music in general, Luke said – “Any kind of specific fiction content that is created for an OTT platform, and anything that is created for it is created with the intent of serving it. So if Netflix got Divine on board to do a song for Sacred Games, it is only to serve the purpose of Sacred Games and not serve the purpose of Divine. I mean Divine is already Divine. You don’t need to make him Super Divine! If the content and the artist marriage well together and add to the flavour of the storytelling, then that should be explored. Divine making a song for Sacred Games is not going to be making Sacred Games more popular than what it already is, same for Divine. It is just two minded creative individuals coming together, different fan following for both coming together. Having said that, if there is a definite thought of creating a piece of content which talks about the independent music scene, let me tell a story woven into a narrative – where I am using up and coming artists like Glee. For instance, in 2013, I produced and directed this film – ‘Rise of the Zombie’ – that has an entirely independent soundtrack. I reached out to a couple of artists and asked them to contribute a song. I gave them the overall brief of the song, created the songs with them, paid for them, and they still owned their songs. So more people need to do that. People who have the power for a certain while should help bring up certain independent acts with them. Then the artist can take the ball and run. But let us give them the ball first.

Talking about other challenges the industry is currently facing, Luke said – “What is also very much required is the Touring infrastructure. We don’t have venues that support musicians or music construct. Venues haven’t worked because of the licensing issues. Maybe that is where the Government could relax – where they step back and let them breathe and exempt 5-7 music venues from these licenses and allow the live music scene to grow. That is one way things can change.

Predicting the future of the Indian Music Industry, Luke said – “Technology has always been changing – with formats and so on and so forth. The more affordable a format for the end-user, the more longevity of the format. Streaming services are giving you everything on a platter for almost free. A good song will always come out on top, regardless of the format, the label behind it or the appearance of the artist. A Wakhra Swag will be a Wakhra Swag. So music will always be relevant. We need to find MJs, Madonnas, Biebers, Springsteens. We did that for a while in the 90s, but we tripped up. But we don’t have to worry about the sales aspect of it anymore or the physical element anymore. With one single click, you can now reach out to 8 billion people across the planet, something you couldn’t achieve with the physical format. So the artists need to leverage this power and the entire ecosystem needs to be set in place for this to prosper.

A dental surgeon by profession, Ankit changed his stream to Music Production and Audio Engineering in 2016. He has since created a Music Promotions Agency and an Artist Management/Label to contribute to India's ever-growing music industry. With a knack for Music Business and tastemaking, he intends to share knowledge and music with everyone!

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